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Fun with Google Maps for Bicycling

It’s pretty exciting that the folks at Google Maps have added bicycling directions in addition to the walking and public transit options that have been available for a few years. I’ve played with the bicycling directions a bit over the past few days, and they seem to work pretty well, suggesting routes which have bike lanes or bike boulevards, and directing people around steep hills when a good alternative exists. They advise, however, that “bicycling directions are in beta,” and there are definitely some kinks to work out. Gene at Our Oakland, for example, pointed out that Google suggests riding on a “hecka busy, hecka steep” street behind Montclair Village instead of using the much easier (and much more pleasant) rail-to-trail bike path that I wrote about back in January. My favorite suggestion so far, however, is this route between Grand Avenue and Park Boulevard:

This is an unlikely route for several reasons, but the part that amused me the most is near the top, where Google Maps suggests a shortcut between Beacon Street and Merritt Avenue. That might look like a sensible maneuver on a map, but in real life, few (if any) people on bikes would choose that shortcut. To see why, all you have to do is switch to the street view in Google Maps and look at the turn from Beacon Street toward Merritt Avenue:

Oops! I hope your bike is lightweight, because you’ll have to carry it up about 5 flights of stairs, which just happen to be steeper than most—enjoy the workout!

Google is aware that it is using imperfect data to suggest routes, so they are encouraging people to report problems. If they are responsive to feedback, and receive enough of it, then these issues should be easily fixed, but until then, use caution, lest Google send you and your bike flying down any steep staircases…